What’s Up With That? Businesses’ sidewalk seating must leave space for pedestrians



There are a number of businesses along Main Street that have fenced off portions of the sidewalk to use as seating for their customers, some with movable barriers and some with permanent ones. This makes navigating the sidewalk a bit challenging at times. Are there any ordinances that address this use of the sidewalks?

— Linda Caton, Shumway

Good point, Linda. There appears to be more or less permanent sidewalk infrastructure set out by the Niche wine bar, the Brickhouse nightclub, Mon Ami creperie, La Bottega cafe and wine shop and Vancouver Pizza. Some of these businesses have even created clever permanent-but-retractible barriers, as you point out.

Vancouver code has plenty to say about businesses occupying sections of sidewalk — most of it positive. As principal city planner Bryan Snodgrass put it: “Downtown design guidelines encourage temporary cafe encroachment into sidewalks.” One signature of a healthy, vibrant downtown, the city figures, is people eating lunch or sipping lattes outdoors while watching the world go by on a beautiful sunny day.

Although we’re a little short on those days right now, Snodgrass pointed to VMC 11.60.040.B.12 as the code that governs street and sidewalk use. The bottom line is: businesses do not need a permit to set up a temporary display or temporary use on the sidewalk as long it extends no more than three feet from the abutting building, leaves six feet of sidewalk clearance for pedestrians, and creates no interference with wheelchair access, traffic or parking. No review by the city is required for this.

If a business does want to take up more than three feet of space, Snodgrass said, it needs a permit for the arrangement. But, he added, “These standards were adopted in July 2012 and do not retroactively apply to previously established uses.”

— Scott Hewitt

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